Minnesota Senate advances school resource officer bill

Published 6:19 pm Monday, March 11, 2024

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By Dana Ferguson, Minnesota Public Radio News

The Minnesota Senate on Monday voted 57-9 to advance a proposal that would exempt school resource officers from a law barring school workers from using prone holds on students.

Under their police training, the officers would still be prohibited from using prone holds unless a student posed a serious risk to themselves or to others. A law passed last year banned holds that could impede a student’s ability to breathe or voice distress.

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In the months since, some police departments removed school resources officers out of concerns for officer liability.

“I’ve worked hard to come up with a comprehensive approach to school resource officers that I believe brings not only clarity, but uniformity around the very definition and duties of a school resource officer,” said the bill’s author state Sen. Bonnie Westlin, DFL-Plymouth.

“This is a child-focused, child-centered approach to the role of SROs within our schools, and it promotes a positive learning environment for all students,” she said.

Under the proposal, school resource officers would have to undergo additional training to work in a school setting and meet contractual requirements developed between a school district and a policy department. And they would not be allowed to deliver discipline for violations of school policies.

Lawmakers from the House and Senate will now have to work together on a compromise bill since senators adopted an amendment on the floor. Gov. Tim Walz has said he would sign it into law when it reaches his desk.

“I express gratitude for everybody working on this,” Walz told reporters at an unrelated event. “Holding two things at the same time that we can keep our students safe in school and that the folks who do that job can do so knowing that there are rules around what they do that they can be protected.”

The bill also requires the Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training — known as the POST Board — to write a model policy for school resource officers with input from law enforcement, school leaders, disability advocates and other community groups.

Republicans in the chamber said they were glad to see a proposed policy change that could encourage police departments to return school resource officers to schools. But they said the issue could’ve been avoided and they lamented that DFL leaders weren’t willing to take up the discussion in a special session.

“I think it is undisputed that our school resource officers are extremely valuable members of our schools throughout the state of Minnesota,” Sen. Zach Duckworth, R-Lakeville, said. “They add to and enhance safety in our schools. They protect our kids, they protect our teachers. I’m very grateful that can be made clear here today.”

GOP lawmakers brought amendments that would have reverted the law on prone holds to the policy that existed prior to the change last year. That came up short and was not accepted. Lawmakers did approve an amendment that would allow school workers to intervene to prevent the theft, damage or destruction of property.

A conference committee will determine whether the amendment remains or a final bill moves forward without it.